Obama 'confident' US can fill any gap in oil supply
Washington (Platts)--11Mar2011/241 pm EST/1941 GMT
After weeks of crude oil prices hovering around $100/barrel because of
turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East, President Barack Obama Friday
sought to reassure Americans the US can weather the current price spike.
Obama did not propose releasing oil from the US' Strategic Petroleum
Reserve, something Congressional Democrats have repeatedly requested in recent
weeks, but said in televised remarks from the White House that an SPR release
is possible if conditions worsen.
"Even if Libyan oil production was suspended for a significant amount of
time because of the unrest there we'd be able to fill that gap," Obama said.
The US "will do what we need to do" in consultation with both producers
and US allies with crude reserves to make sure oil supplies "remain stable and
that economic growth is going to continue," Obama said.
Obama said the Department of Energy is "teed up" to open the SPR if
necessary, so it would take days, not weeks for oil to flow from the reserves
when the time comes.
"Should the situation demand it, we are prepared to tap the significant
stockpile of oil we have in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve," he continued.
Obama said he has ordered the Justice Department, working with state
attorneys general, to monitor retail pump prices for any "price gouging" of
gasoline at a time of rising prices, he said. "To the extent we see any
efforts to take advantage of these price spikes through price gouging, we're
going to go after that," he said.
Average retail gasoline prices have increased by 38 cents in the past
three weeks to $3.52/gal, with another 10-cent/gal increase expected to
reflect current wholesale prices, the US Energy Information Agency said
Obama also said he has asked the Interior Department to report back to
him in two weeks on oil and natural gas leases on federal lands held by
companies that are currently not actively working on those properties.
Obama defended his administration's oil and gas policing policies in
the wake of last year's Macondo disaster, offering that US oil production
last year was its highest in seven years and that offshore production was at
its highest-ever level. Attacking the administration's stricter safety policy
on offshore drilling "might make for a good sound bite, but it doesn't match
up with reality," he said.
Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate
change, laid out Obama's case in a post on the White House blog earlier this
week. Zichal wrote that energy development, onshore and offshore, has
increased since Obama took office. She cited federal statistics that oil
production from the Outer Continental Shelf increased to an estimated 600
million barrels in 2010 from 446 million barrels in 2008.
Republican staff of the House Natural Resources Committee didn't dispute
those statistics earlier this week, but said in a news release that leases
issued a decade ago or more are responsible for that increased production, not
Obama said he has ordered Energy Secretary Steven Chu to stay in "close
contact" with Japanese officials over the safety of Japanese nuclear
facilities in the wake of the devastating earthquake there.
In response to a news conference question about the stability of Japanese
nuclear facilities, Obama said he had been told by Japan's prime minister that
authorities there had not yet seen any evidence of radiation leaks from the
While that is the case for now, Obama said Chu was asked to stay on top
of the situation in Japan, "so if there are any breaches.... they're dealt
with right away."
Obama also said NATO officials plan to meet Tuesday to consider enacting
a no-fly zone over Libya to stop bombing raids by the Moammar Qadhafi regime
on rebels and civilians in the North African country.
"NATO will be meeting on Tuesday to consider a no-fly zone and we've been
in discussions with both Arab countries as well as African countries to gauge
their support for such an action," Obama said.
The US and other Western powers have come under criticism for the lack of
intervention in the Libyan conflict, especially since Qadhafi has used his air
power against the rebels and civilians. The regime Thursday reportedly took
back the key oil city of Ras Lanuf after massive aerial and rocket
bombardment. However, AFP Friday reported rebel fighters claimed to have
recaptured the town.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with the Libyan opposition
in the several days, Obama said. The administration has also decided to assign
a representative "whose specific job is to interact with the opposition and
determine ways that we can further help them. We're going to be in close
consultation with them.
"The bottom line is that I have not taken any options off the table at
this point," Obama said.
--Keith Chu, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Robert Dinardo, email@example.com
--Richard Rubin, firstname.lastname@example.org
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